Articles in Politics & History
Political scientist Ian Bremmer’s new book looks at the changing nature of American power in the 21st century, but just how many false premises does the book employ?
He sailed around Cape Horn and wrote a classic about it, and he fought for the downtrodden in Boston courts for thirty years – he was Richard Henry Dana, Jr., and he’s the subject of a thought-provoking new biography.
“How a Court LOOKS,” remarked a courtier to one of England’s more successful modern-day monarchs, “is at least as important as how a Court WORKS.” A re-issued study from Philip Mansel looks at form and function in the court of Napoleon Bonaparte
“Austria,” quipped Talleyrand, “has the tiresome habit of always being beaten” – but Richard Bassett’s vigorous new history of the Imperial Austrian Army begs to differ!
A French army and a British army stumble upon each other in the wilderness of the New World, and their conflict changes the nature of the world’s biggest war
The epic change in ancient Rome from a Republic to an Empire hinged on one man: Julius Caesar. A new history tells the familiar story.
A veteran state conflict analyst looks at the mother of such conflicts: the long strife between Israel and Palestine
Veteran historian John Julius Norwich attempts to cram over 800 years of Sicilian history into 300 pages – and because he’s John Julius Norwich, he very nearly succeeds
Military historian Stephen Harding tells the poignant story of the last soldier killed in World War II
Just in time for America’s Independence Day, the Library of America presents its newest production: a two-volume collection of some of the pamphlets that so inflamed the colonial population in the decade leading up to the Revolution
A brutal assassination in 1537 changed the course of Florentine history, and eleven years later, the assassin was himself murdered. Case closed? A fascinating new book thinks not!
A thousand years ago, a refined lady at the Japanese Court wrote the first and one of the greatest novels of all time, The Tale of Genji; Dennis Washburn does the latest translation of this immense work, with stunning results.
Most people today know him only from the libretto of one short opera, but in his own day, he was a famous poet, playwright, and scholar – and a compulsive litigant. Luciano Mangiafico looks at the life of Giovanni Verga.
For a key interval in 1940, Britain stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany at its peak – and that familiar story of determination and ultimate victory is the subject of Robin Prior’s new book
At the height of the Vietnam War, President Nixon engaged in an incredibly risky game of nuclear brinksmanship – a richly-researched new book tells the story
While America was still technically neutral in Great Britain’s fight against Germany, a handful of American flyers traveled to England and volunteered to fly in the RAF – a fascinating new book tells their story
Many new books – some excellent, some awful – are now seeking to explain the terrorist group ISIS, but the group’s own origins dynamics are dauntingly complex. Greg Waldmann tries to make sense of it all.
Celebrated biographer H. W. Brands has written the first full-dress of Ronald Reagan since the former president’s death in 2004 – but does Reagan elude him, as he has so many biographers? Steve Donoghue reviews.
On a chilly day in late May, 1918, American troops went into battle in the World War I for the first time – a gripping new history tells the story
Now in paperback: a fascinating history of mankind’s interactions with the most famous volcano in the world
The mad debacle of the Dardanelles campaign is now 100 years in the past, and to mark the anniversary, a classic account is reprinted
A former deputy director of the CIA reflects on his time on the front lines in this frustrating memoir
A former key player in the Coalition’s conquest and administration of Iraq reflects on her time there
In the wake of the First World War, unimaginable energies were unleashed upon the societies of the Western world. A fascinating new book attempts to assess the results.
John Ferling, great historian of 18th century America, here tells the story of the American Revolution itself, in typically riveting fashion
A noted Israeli scholar and ‘refusnik’ writes a reserved and thorough history of the occupied territories
The US Constitution – the oldest in the world – gets a comprehensive new biography
Renowned classicist and historian Peter Green has at last produced a translation of the Iliad – and it comes with its own Greek Chorus. Steve Donoghue investigates.
Michael Pye’s new book provides a rich history of the North Sea in human culture – and pokes holes in some crass nationalist myth-making along the way. Matt Ray reviews The Edge of the World.
In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States summarily imprisoned thousands of its Japanese citizens for the duration of the war. Richard Reeves’ passionate new book tells the story
Jenny Uglow’s new book goes into lively detail about how ordinary people in Britain experienced the cataclysmic events of the wars of the Napoleonic era
Author Thom Hatch promises mind-blowing new revelations in his book on the Battle of Little Bighorn. And in other news, Rutherford B. Hayes is rumored to be contemplating a run for president.
An extremely winning new book explores the enormous ways eight particular animal kinds have altered the course of human life on Earth
One hundred years ago, a German U-boat sank the RMS Lusitania, with grievous loss of civilian life. The anniversary is observed by one of our best popular historians
A chatty, vivacious new book tracks the four sons of the Royal House of Windsor during the years of World War Two
In April of 1945, the destroyer USS Laffey was bombarded by wave after wave of kamikaze fighters – and yet survived. A gripping new book tells the story of a ship that refused to die
In time for the hundred-year anniversary of the Ottoman killing of over a million Armenians, a gripping new history tells the whole story of the tragedy
The tense and frantic final months of the American Civil War forms the backdrop for Joseph Wheelan’s lively new book
The sprawling system of concentration camps established by the Nazis gets its first comprehensive history
A fantastic, important new study traces the history of insanity in human history
The military collapse of France in 1940 has been a punch line and byword for decades, but a provocative new book argues that the traditional view is too simple
Hilary Mantel’s best-selling Tudor novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, have made their way to the stage on the expert handling of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Zach Rabiroff had front row center.
In 2011, a man detonated a bomb in Oslo and then shot dozens of people on a nearby island before surrendering to police. A vivid new book tells the whole story of the victims – and the killer
In 1936 Nazi Germany poured money and manpower into backing General Franco in the Spanish Civil War; a new history powerfully re-interprets that fraught relationship
A new book tells the story of the War Cabinet Winston Churchill assembled to fight the Second World War
Beyond the battles and trenches of the First World War, a dozen less glamorous but no less vital fights were being waged – in laboratories and darkrooms and publishing offices. A vibrant new book tells the story of the other World War I
800 years ago, King John “Lackland” sealed Magna Carta and unwittingly laid the foundation for some of Western law; a new book takes a fresh look at this much-maligned figure
For more than a thousand years, the sprawling area of the Baltic has played host to history, art, and fitful commerce – a new history tells the story.
In Michel Houellebecq’s uncannily timely new novel, the triumph of an Islamist government relieves the dreary banality that defines the secular France of the 21st century.
Traditional cynicism has always maintained that Benjamin Disraeli married Mary Anne Wyndham Lewis primarily for her money, but a new book argues that the real picture was a good deal more complex – and interesting – than that.
Author Jacob Silverman contends in his new book that the intrusions of social media into our private lives has reached sometimes intolerable extents. But what does he mean by “intolerable”? And who is he counting as “our”?
Two books by Mark Leibovitch create a picture of Beltway wheelings and dealings that’s almost unbearably incestuous, with virtually no lines drawn between elected officials and profiteering lobbyists. Greg Waldmann plumbs the depths and reports back.
The 2nd Light Battalion King’s Division played a pivotal role at the Battle of Waterloo, as a slim new history by Brendan Simms demonstrates. Matt Ray reviews the book in his Open Letters debut.
American senator, author, and statesman Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s complex and constantly-evolving political philosophy is the subject of a pointed new book
A fantastic new book tells the story of President Washington and the extraordinary team he assembled to form the new nation’s first administration
In 1939 the Nazis established their only concentration camp specifically for women; a comprehensive new book tells the history of Ravensbruck
From Lizzie Borden to O. J. Simpson, big public show-trials have fascinated the American people. In his new book, renowned legal historian Lawrence Friedman tries to dissect why that is.
The rebel pharaoh who instituted a radical new monotheism gets a highly-detailed and revisionist investigation
The Ottoman Empire joined the fighting of the First World War deeply misunderstood by both sides; a charismatic new book seeks to clarify the story of that odd meeting of East and West
The Works Progress Administration did more than set thousand of Americans to building bridges and roads in the 1930s; it also fostered art, as an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Art Gallery lavishly illustrates.
Under the direction of Oliver Cromwell, dozens of men deliberated to execute the captive King Charles I, and when Charles II came to power a decade later, those men were suddenly in the gravest danger. A fascinating new book tells their stories.
A new book takes an intense look at the presidency of Ronald Reagan
A harrowing new book looks at the many spaces the Vietnam Was has occupied in the American mental landscape
The clashes of the Cold War weren’t just matters of missiles and border guards; they also enlisted honey-voiced broadcasters, drunken novelists, and bookish magazine editors, as a fascinating new book makes clear
In 1944 a contentious group of delegates gathered in New Hampshire in order to lay out a blueprint for the postwar world economy; a great new history tells the story of Bretton Woods
Two-time National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft kept a low profile (and a negligible paper trail) throughout a lifetime in Washington power-dealing; a compelling new book profiles the ultimate Oval Office insider
Former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee offers a plea for understanding the ‘flyover states’ where, he claims, real people lead real lives
Two years before he gained fame in the most painful way imaginable at the Battle of Little Bighorn, George Armstrong Custer led a large expedition into the Black Hills sacred to the Sioux – in search of gold
One of the most experienced reporters to cover the war in Afghanistan writes up his experiences
In his new book, historian Adam Zamoyski paints a picture of a Europe convulsed with fear of upheavals like the French Revolution and the tyranny of Bonaparte – and willing to do anything to prevent them
A paradigm-shifting new book looks at the turbulent decade of the 1970s in United States politics and the re-shaping of the world
John Bunyan’s book-length religious allegory Pilgrim’s Progress strikes many of today’s readers as hopelessly hokey and tone-deaf – but it still has abundant power to change lives, as one passionate reader attests.
A new reprint line from the New York Review of Books concentrates on literature from – and on – China’s long literary history, and the first three volumes offer the strange, the familiar, and the beautiful.
Claudia Rankine articulates the truths of the black experience so poignantly in her celebrated collection Citizen by putting them, paradoxically, both plainly and artfully.
In his new book City of Rivals, James Grumet takes a gloomy close-up look at America’s deeply dysfunctional Congress and offers some solutions. But are those solutions dysfunctional too?
From the Puritans and their city on a hill to the Mormons to modern-day charlatans, the story of the United States is the story of competing faiths; a lively new book looks at that complicated tapestry
Revolutionary Russian choreographer Leonid Yakobson fought prejudice, rivals, and the omnipresent Soviet censors to pursue his art, as a magnificent new book narrates
For the earliest New England settlers, there were no roads through the wilderness – only the pathways used by suspicious and distrustful natives. And yet, the desire to share news was as strong as ever – a fascinating new book looks at the ways gossip travels in the woods.
A nimble and tremendously engaging history of the Middle Ages finally gets translated into English
It’s comforting to believe there are lessons to be learned from the Holocaust, or to treat it as a story about the triumph of the human spirit. Jona Oberski’s Childhood rightly refuses us these consolations.
Brian Turner’s complex, lyrical meditations on his tour of duty in Iraq make us ache with the privilege that is a war memoir.
Two recent votes on independence remind us that globalization has not put an end to nationalism. A new book on the 1995 Quebec referendum highlights just how complicated a people’s “yes” or “no” votes really are.
Historical novelist Andrew Levkoff stuffs the last installment of his “Bow of Heaven” trilogy with battles, love, loyalty betrayed, crucifixion, cross-purposes, loyalty regained, and deep reflections on what it all means.
Once he’d led the Continental Army to victory, General George Washington retired to his Mount Vernon home – but the newborn country wasn’t done with him yet. A new book looks at First Citizen Washington.
Gertrude van Tijn helped more than 20,000 Jews escape occupied Holland. What does it mean that, in saving their lives, she had to collaborate with Nazis?
Hugely talented biographer Andrew Roberts has written a big biography of Napoleon Bonaparte – but when it comes to such a well-known figure, are readers in danger of fatigue de bataille?
Leon Panetta, old Washington fixture and former member of the Obama administration, criticizes the president in his new memoir. But does he have anything to say?
What would you do if your artistic survival suddenly depended on the whims of a brutal dictatorship? How far would you compromise? How much would you risk? A new book studies artists in the Third Reich.
Can a book about the Jewish Diaspora add anything useful on the topic if it’s uninterested in Jewish history and slightly dodgy about the Diaspora? Jordan MaGill gives Alan Wolfe’s At Home in Exile a close reading.
There were layers and layers to John Marshall, one of America’s first and in many ways most important Chief Justices of the Supreme Court – but just how deep does the latest biography go?
“Our belief in Literature has collapsed” Lars Iyer once wrote, but his new novel Wittgenstein Jr, the story of a passionate philosophy professor and his apathetic students, bristles with literary faith.
The great critic and essayist Irving Howe laid claim to a great many decayed traditions – and then elevated them all to high art. A new collection of his prose presents some of his gems.
Title Menu: A list of great political books that doesn’t include What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer
Just in time for the November midterm elections, we do what doubters said couldn’t be done: we present you with a list of ten great political books that doesn’t include Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes.
Veteran historian Brookhiser takes a look at the formative influences on Abraham Lincoln – not so much his own father as the Founding Fathers.
In Absence of Mind, Marilynne Robinson explores both the dynamics of faith and the complacency of recent anti-faith screeds. But is her own book something of a fall from grace?
In his latest collection of essays, Theater of Cruelty, Ian Buruma launches a series of expert investigations into the springs of cruelty and the perils of victomhood.
A British historian’s richly-sourced accounting of Molotov-Ribbentrop offers fresh insights into this Nazi-Soviet pact of “non-aggression.”
A new book blames Pakistan for the carnage in Afghanistan. But what does “Pakistan” really mean when its government is so fraught with dissension?
What does the summer of 1989, when Do the Right Thing hit theaters, have to say to the summer of Ferguson, and police militarization, and race relations today?
The critical consensus around reclusive Italian novelist Elena Ferrante is enough to make you suspect collusion – but to what end? and at what cost? Rohan Maitzen reviews the reviewers.
We think of the Middle East as a place of hopeless deadlocks – but once upon a time, an Egyptian president, an Israeli prime minister, and a U.S. president worked for two weeks to hammer out a plan for peace. Lawrence Wright takes readers to Camp David at a turning point in history.
Can Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda heal Canada’s colonial relationship with its First Nations? Why should we expect literature to succeed where our leaders have failed?
England had been at war with France almost continuously since the Norman Conquest, but in the Hundred Years War, the conflict became especially heightened – and transformative. A new history tells the story as a rattling good yarn.
Uncertain Justice, by Lawrence Tribe and Joshua Matz, suggests that personality plays a greater role than ideology in today’s Supreme Court. David Culberg assesses the arguments.
A controversial author’s latest and most devastating indictment of Israel’s policies toward its Palestinian citizens and neighbors
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems depressingly intractable, an impasse without end. A new book offers a hypothetical solution, but is it foolish idealism, unworkable pragmatism – or a desperately innovative kind of hope?
What place do deep questions about the meaning of life have in our technological age? Is philosophy more important than ever?
William Deresiewicz has written-up some admonitions for gifted children of privilege: beware of status-mongering, ignorance of other classes, greed. But is his book itself just a wee bit … privileged?
The third voume of Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland trilogy is sure to fly off the shelves, but those flying copies will be light to the tune of a few needed footnotes, omissions our managing editor finds, to say the least, troubling.
Since the days of T.E. Lawrence, reporters have been providing the West with carefully-wrought (or overwrought) tales of the Middle East. A new book comments on the excesses–and maybe commits a few too.
The collectors of rare 78 rpm records are nearly as singular and remarkable as the vinyl they seek out. A new book travels to flea markets and music fairs to discover the secrets of these American obsessives.
Of all the borders in the world, the Durand line is perhaps the most dangerous. A new book seeks to explain the Taliban, who plague the peoples on both sides of it.
Babe Ruth, Mayor Walker, Duke Ellington, Dorothy Parker – New York City in the Jazz Age was a bristling landscape of giants, most of them from out of town. A vast and enthralling new history tells the stories of the people who made the Big Apple.
“You can throw out every damn other thing in the Constitution, as long as you don’t touch my guns,” one Southern U.S. Senator famously bellowed, perfectly typifying a certain psychosis. A new book picks fights on history of American gun law.
Thomas Piketty’s great mountain of Gallic macro-economics, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, was the hit of the Western world for one heady season. Then the parade moved on, and we were left, dazed and disheveled, wondering if we’ve been fed un truc de ouf. Our Peer Review attempts to sort out the l’affaire Piketty
With suicides on the rise throughout the Western world, a recent study by Jennifer Hecht attempts to both diagnose the frightening trend and evangelize against it. Ivan Kenneally discusses how effective her arguments are likely to be.
Legendary Indian author Saadat Hasan Manto’s choicest short stories – depicting a teeming Bombay that’s both long-vanished and eternal – receive an attractive new paperback edition from Vintage International
On Marx, the latest chip off the block of Alan Ryan’s 2-volume On Politics, focuses on the founder of Marxism – but Ryan’s a man in a hurry, and the devil is in the details.
Ronald Reagan single-handedly ended the Cold War at Reykjavik in 1985. And if you believe that, his loyal aid Ken Adelman has a book to sell you.
A fascinating new book tells the remarkable stories of five ‘improbable’ women who defied convention to explore the much mythologised landscape of the Middle East.
As the world’s supply of writers outpaces the world’s demand for their books, the financial returns for writing have fallen to laughable levels. Then why keep doing it? Paul Griffin explores the problem of writing and money.
Like so many before him, the celebrated Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley had a tangled and complicated history with Italy, equal parts inspiration and frustration. Luciano Mangiafico tells the story
A thoughtful exploration of what it means to teach the humanities would be a welcome intervention in the never-ending talk of crisis. Unfortunately, Why Teach? is not that book.
A kaleidoscopic new book explores one of history’s sharpest paradoxes: the Age of Liberty was also the Age of Slavery
Iraqi lawyer and former exile Zaid al-Ali writes a bleak, sobering account of the state of his homeland in the post-“Mission Accomplished” era – but is there any reason for hope?
For the past 25 years, the Irish Presidency has been a wonder to behold: a place where passionate eccentrics can embody a complicated country.
Putin’s Soviet predecessors were masters of doublespeak. As Ukraine suffers again, it’s clear that their descendents are now in charge.
Russia and the West, talking past each other, have blundered into conflict over Ukraine. Some commentators on the American left aren’t behaving much differently.
In her brilliantly scathing new book, Elaine Scarry charges that US Presidents, in maintaining and augmenting an enormous nuclear arsenal, have broken the social contract and become monarchs in all but name.
The great and problematic poet Robert Browning drew some of his most powerful poetic inspirations from the lore and lure of Italy; Luciano Mangiafico traces the complicated relationship of the man to his “adopted homeland.”
How could they do it, those young men who, with every reason to live, walked deliberately into machine-gun fire? Joe Sacco gives us a panoramic view of the horror, the labor, and the losses of WWI.
For years, pioneering blogger Andrew Sullivan was one of the most vocal supporters of the war in Iraq. Time and the war’s wretched progress gradually forced him to change his thinking, however, and a new collection of his writings on the subject charts the disillusioning step-by-step.
To literary scholar Laura Frost, the great 20th century modernists created readerly pleasures not through familiar comforts but by transforming difficulty and strangeness into something exciting and new. Daniel Green tests the theory.
The Russian dissident writers are largely unknown in the West today, but their work was an inspiration at a time when their compatriots were forbidden to dream different dreams.
She was the daughter, the sister, and the wife of kings in one of England’s most turbulent periods, but Alison Weir’s new biography is the first to make us feel we really know Elizabeth of York.
Byron was mad, bad, and dangerous to know — and eventually his amorous, adventurous spirit led him to Italy.
Every correspondent in Moscow wanted to be the first to find Solzhenitsyn after he won the Nobel Prize in 1970. Michael Johson had that honor – but the great Russian writer wasn’t altogether pleased so see him.
He was the greatest Italian poet since Dante, but he was tormented by a strict upbringing, ruinous health, and moods of black pessmism. He was Giacomo Leopardi, and this is his story.
Ryszard Kapuściński has courted controversy for the poetic licenses in his groundbreaking works of history. But it’s those leaps of imagination and sympathy that make his 2001 book on Africa, The Shadow of the Sun, a lasting work of art.
The age of Roosevelt and Taft was also the age of Progressive reform – spearheaded by an amazing team of ‘muckraking’ writers the like of which the United States had never seen.
Chimananda Ngozi Adichie’s expansive novel Americanah centers on a Nigerian woman’s immigration to the United States and eventual return to Nigeria. Orem Ochiel explores what her story says about complex, often traumatic experience of being black and African in the West.
Campaign books have short shelf-lives – and they deserve them, since most of them have about as much introspection as yesterday’s racing form. Greg Waldmann reads a recent book on the pivotal 2012 U.S. presidential election.
From the agora 2,400 years ago to the present day, the schools of Plato and Aristotle have been locked in combat; a new book sees the struggle in disarmingly simple terms.
Before he became one of America’s most famous presidents, John Kennedy was a hot-shot senator and a photogenic winner of the Pulitzer Prize. But did the Senate years help to form the Oval Office years?
Elizabeth Gilbert’s ambitious new novel imagines the life of a 19th-century woman botanist, as insightful as Darwin but lost to history. It’s an interesting project, and a worthy one, but does the novel live up to its premise?
Two thousand years ago, a bustling seaside town on the Naples coast was engulfed in a sudden, unthinkable catastrophe: the eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii in hot ash and froze it in death for two millennia. Can any museum exhibit capture the irresistible fascination of such a stark human drama?
A girl, a widow, a matriarch, a mother, a businesswoman, and a minister’s slave: a new history traces the Salem Witch Trials through the lives of six women who paid dearly for their proximity to one of the most mysterious incidents in American history
The USSR’s Book of Tasty and Healthy Food created an impression of bounty and gourmet splendor; Anya von Bremzen’s memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking reveals the Soviet kitchen’s homelier truths
King and Woolman’s new book Assassination of the Archduke, boasts new sources, very close to Franz Ferdinand and his wife — too close?
President, prime minister, or unnamed Tsar, Vladimir Putin is at once ubiquitous and unknowable; a new book examines the many facets of a new species of autocrat.
The meek and peaceful Jesus has become the standard Christian image of the Messiah. Religious scholar Reza Aslan’s controversial new book shatters that image and replaces it with something very different: a violent revolutionary who came not to bring peace but a sword.
In Caleb Crain’s debut novel, a young man puts his ordinary life on hold and goes to post-revolution Prague in search of all the usual things young people go searching for in Prague. But, as reviewer Yulia Greyman observes, “false selves are a part of love.”
It became entangled with the imperial hopes of a nation and inspired the design of one of the most significant buildings of the 19th century, the Crystal Palace: a new book explores the remarkable story of the Amazonian water lily.
‘Everyone knows who won the war,’ runs the refrain of Muriel Rukeyser’s Savage Coast; her newly published 1930 novel about the Spanish Civil War shows what it meant to be a witness to it.
Our feature continues, as more Open Letters folk share their annual Summer Reading recommendations!
Fintan O’Toole is an idealist about Irish republicanism and his books begin a desperately necessary conversation. It’s a bad sign, though, that he can’t quite get past the preliminaries.
A debut novel of alternate history spins out one of the most tantalizing hypotheticals of the past: what if Anne Boleyn had managed to give King Henry VIII a healthy male heir? Some of the answers – and some of the resulting mysteries – may surprise you.
Bohemian Back Bay was as key to Copley Square as aristocratic Back Bay and black artist models figured not only in Sargent’s work, but in Fred Holland Day’s too.
The authors have invaluable sources in America’s ‘deep state’ of surveillance and counter-terrorism, but how much secrecy does security justify? And what happened to moral accountability?
A startling triptych illuminates the crossroads of social, racial, and sexual identity in the Copley Square of a century ago, as “The Gods of Copley Square” continues
An incurious and indifferent Jew journeys to Auschwitz to confront the kitsch and the manicured ruins, looking for a sense of connection – and finding it in the most unlikely places
“The Gods of Copley Square”s spirited multi-part examination of Boston’s Trinity Church (and its indomitable bishop-saint) comes to its conclusion right where it should: at the heart of worship
The typical image of Winston Churchill comes from the dark days of World War II: a fat, old, bald Prime Minister eloquently defying Hitler’s Germany. But before there was a monument there was a man, as an engaging new biography brings to light.
Elie Wiesel once claimed “a novel about Treblinka is either not a novel or not about Treblinka.” How does Steve Sem-Sandberg grapple with representing the unrepresentable in his sweeping chronicle of the Łódź ghetto, The Emperor of Lies? A review from our archives.
He may not have anything new to tell us today, but as Spencer Lenfield demonstrates, Gilbert Highet’s friendly, engaging pedagogy is still rare enough to keep him relevant.
We’ve long endowed campaign consultants with shamanistic powers, but now a new truth is beginning to emerge–the people behind the scenes who can do most to win elections are the data analysts and stat nerds.
After his first visit to Italy, Mark Twain pronounced her “one vast museum of magnificence and misery,” and yet he returned again and again. Luciano Magniafaco chronicles his journeys.
The belief that Jews are the enemy of civilization is one of the West’s most tenacious and systemic ideas. Professor David Nirenberg’s new history offers a vast, seemingly inexhaustible record of a very old, very useful hatred.
When the Paris Review, long regarded as a literary standard-bearer, publishes a volume on the art of the short story, it flushes a flurry of conversations into the open: what is a short story? What constitutes an anthology-worthy example? What’s the audience for this kind of thing? And: can these stories answer such questions?
Joseph Epstein has a cult following as a sharp-tongued critic and essayist. His latest collection showcases his love of words and ideas as well as his caustic wit.
Year after year, D. H.Lawrence found love, lust, and gainful employment in Italy – and through the strange alchemy of the place, he also found the inspirations for some of his most enduring works of art.
Lost to history, here re-discovered, Trinity Chancel –“a daring enterprise in its day, as original an expression and as unique as was the genius of the American people.”
Ben Jonson said that the once wealthy and acclaimed Edmund Spenser died “for want of bread”; a new biography tries to disentangle myth from fact, and to make the case for the great poet’s relevance today
A rumor of Narnia at Trinity Church prompts two questions. Can a building have a spiritual life? Can a work of art not? Phillips Brooks and the idea of ecstasy
Give Anthony Burgess a check and he’d write anything, even a Time-Life picture book. Which doesn’t mean that his 1976 guide to New York is anything less than fascinating.
Nate Silver is currently enjoying his status as that unlikeliest of people, the celebrity statistician. Does his bestseller The Signal and the Noise live up to its carefully calculated expectations?
“Truth is Catholic, but the search for it is Protestant,” quoth W.H. Auden, and this month Phillips Brooks is at Lourdes, of all places, his liking for which can only be explained by his experiences at Benares.
Four years ago, Barack Obama won the U.S. presidency on a platform of hope and change. This month, as he fights for re-election, Greg Waldmann takes a detailed look at the incumbent’s first term.
As Americans go to the polls this month to elect a president, some recent biographies examine the lives of five very different men who once held the office.
“Perhaps a little drunk might answer” was Phillips Brooks’s idea of how to view Pre-Raphaelite art, several masterpieces of which he commissioned for Trinity Church. “Centerpiece” continues.
In this tensely-charged election year, all eyes fix on the blogosphere – of 1787. Jeffrey Eaton signs us in to Library of America’s 2-volume Debate on the Constitution and fills the comments field.
Mitt Romney’s diatribe at a Boca Raton fundraiser may have torpedoed his candidacy. Was he just pandering, or did he actually mean all of those things he said?
Madman, lothario, despot, drug fiend, friend and enemy of Mussolini – and immortal poet. Gabriele D’Annunzio was all of these things and many more in his whirlwind of a life.
Henry Adams on the road to Chartres, Phillips Brooks on the Madonna of the prairie, and John La Farge on why he worried Trinity Church had “no heart” — The Gods of Copley Square continues
Election-weary Americans might wonder why anybody in their right minds would elect to play a video-game presidential contest – but the process can be oddly enlightening.
It’s a bridge, a barrier, and a burden; it’s used in the bedroom, the kitchen, and the outhouse. Leah Price helps us think again about what we can, should, or want to do with that most fetishized of objects: the book.
Lord Castlereagh lives in infamy as the target of the Romantic Poets’ most vicious insults, but one biography tries to salvage his reputation. Was the statesman a scourge of liberalism or pragmatist of Enlightenment ideals?
Pound wrote The Pisan Cantos on toilet paper while prisoner in an open-air metal cage during WWII, and he spent many of the following years in mental hospitals. “I can get along with crazy people,” he quipped. “It’s only the fools I can’t stand.”
Was General Zhukov the greatest general to order mass executions of his own soldiers? Was he the single most decisive factor in beating Hitler? A new biography opens more questions than it answers.
Byzantium rediscovered. An American in Venice and a forgotten Madonna (which breaks the rules) in Copley Square. Behold an American Hagia Sophia
Who’s at fault for our disastrous politics — both parties? Not a chance, say Washington insiders Ornstein and Mann. Our resident politico fisks their analysis.
This summer’s London Olympics take us back to 1981’s Chariots of Fire, the 1924 Olympics, and the poetry of William Blake. The connection? All remind us of the fragility of glory and our endless wish to make the past present.
Lyndon Johnson rained destruction on Vietnam and championed civil rights, amassed a secret fortune and fought for the needy. His paradoxical life continues in the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s epic biography.
A contentious Supreme Court in the headlines is hardly a new thing – nor is the Court being used for partisan politics and the brinksmanship of history, as Noah Feldman’s Scorpions makes clear
“He calls you a swine,” Walter Lippmann once wrote of H.L. Mencken, “and he increases your will to live.” A reissue of Mencken’s 1926 rabble-rouser Notes on Democracy shows the journalist at his insulting, rejuvenating best.
In the wake of today’s news from Connecticut, we are reposting a note written by our Executive Editor following the shootings in Aurora earlier this year.
We may never know with certainty what brought Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to cast the deciding vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act and salvage the chief accomplishment of Barack Obama’s presidency. But …
Boston’s iconic Copley Square – with its Trinity Church and its Public Library – is a present-day tourist hotspot, but those visitors hardly suspect the deep and rich history of the area. American Aristocracy continues.
Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was a cherished and beloved fixture of the British royal family for almost a century (and would certainly have stolen the show at her daughter’s Diamond Jubilee, had she lived to see it) – but a new book claims the Queen Mum was just an ordinary human being – and not always a very nice one
Just how powerful is Exxon Mobil? Who can they pay off and which governments are they propping up? Steve Coll’s new book explores the dark side of power and light.
She’s occupied the throne of Great Britain and the Commonwealth for 60 years, and in June Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee. Three new biographies try to understand the woman wearing the crown.
McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara, RFK, JFK, LBJ–these were the best and the brightest of David Halberstam’s landmark study of American politics during the Vietnam War. The book is now 40 years old and its lessons are as vital as ever.
Intertwining through Boston history: the rich, implacable music of Beethoven and the flinty austerity of the Boston Granite style of architecture – trace the connections, as American Aristocracy continues.
Steve Donoghue takes the emperor’s box to thumbs-up or thumbs-down an array of Roman historical novels, as “A Year with the Romans” continues.
Ian Manfred St. Cyr settles in with Maureen Waller’s Sovereign Ladies, a biography of “the six reigning queens of England” and suggests that the author’s headcount may be a little low.
The real mystery of Richard III is not the fate of his nephews, the Princes in the Tower, but why we never tire of telling and re-telling his story. What do we really see when we stare at his enigmatic portrait?
He survived years of dangerous exile, won his crown on the battlefield, and founded one of the most famous dynasties in human history – and yet we still haven’t embraced Henry VII. A spirited new biography seeks to change that.
No form of literature seems as thoroughly doomed in the 21st century as the printed encyclopedia, but even dinosaurs can have rich and rewarding life-stories. Where did we go, before we all went to the Internet?
Ken Layne’s political writing is sharp and raucus, and a novel about a financially devastated near-future United States would seem like a perfect vehicle for more anger. But though that fire is still there, a gentle-but-compelling spiritualist tone has risen to to the fore.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has made a career of joking about easy political targets – so what happens when she tries to deliver a factual inquiry of a serious subject? Nothing funny, as Greg Waldmann discovers.
This month sees the arrival of the long-awaited $250 million dollar Hollywood movie adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Avengers. Lost in all the hype is the rich history of the comic itself; Justin Hickey explores the convergence of pulp and pixels.
The clash between Brahmin liberalism and the legacy of slave-trading focuses on a monument to the men who redeemed a city and ransomed a nation. “American Aristocracy” continues.
A new book takes readers back to a time when, according to historian Ira Shapiro, politics could sometimes be noble and senators could sometimes be giants.
The work of the Roman poet Catullus has always challenged the received idioms of poetry and society, and a daring new translation both underscores and undermines that iconoclastic Catullan stance.
When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 2010, it was given to an empty chair. Its recipient, Liu Xiaobo, was in prison for advocating human rights in China. Though he is still incarcerated, a collection of essays sheds light on his thought and struggle.
To the quintessential virtues the Puritans lent to a fledgling republic – globality, philantropy, and autonomy – the ‘speaking aristocracy’ of the Boston Brahmins added one more: the love of learning
Steve Jobs, the visionary predator who founded Apple and forged a new way of thinking about technology, wasn’t a particularly nice man (as even his dutiful biographer must occasionally concede) – but was he a genius?
Unlike the soap operas with which it is often dismissively aligned, Downton Abbey is defined by change rather than stasis – by its beautifully produced attention to social evolution.
One hundred years ago this month, the luxury liner Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, with the loss of over 1500 lives. The centenary has released a flood of books, including some gems not to be missed.
Andrew Breitbart, the brash, conservative media warrior, died a few days ago. He was by all accounts a wonderful husband, father, and friend – but should that matter?
Of his 60+ books, one in particular, The United States, is best representative of his work as a whole and, by readers, best loved. On the Collected Essays of Gore Vidal.
After a brutal six months, Mitt Romney has won Florida and almost certainly the GOP nomination. Democrats and Republicans are rightly focused on his record, but they’re each doing it for the wrong reasons.
For two terms, first as National Security Advisor and then as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice was the most – often the only – likeable face of the George W. Bush administration. But does this quintessential team player break ranks in her new memoir?
He fought a world war with France, survived the Black Death, and gave England a real Parliament. Froissart and Chaucer loved him, Shakespeare (almost) wrote about him, and the Victorians disparaged him. He was Edward III, and he has a king-sized new biography from Yale University Press.
Maligned as nothing but handsome breeding stock, this German import did more to redefine the role of the monarchy than any subsequent royal, consort or king.
Boston without Brahmins, like Vienna without Jews, frames shifting capitoline visions, visions much more in the spirit than most realize of Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., who actually wrote: ‘It dwarfs the mind to feed it on any localism.’
James Madison was more cautious and purposeful than the temperamental Hamilton or the effusive Jefferson. Indeed, to paraphrase Brookhiser, Hamilton was a rocket, Jefferson was a kite, Madison was a ballast.
A rich, beautiful, but sadly neglected historical masterpiece: Hilda Prescott’s The Man on a Donkey is the War and Peace of the English Reformation
He lost his famous mother when he was a boy, became a teen idol, had a storybook wedding, and he’s second in line to be King of England. The monarchy Prince William inherits will be like nothing his predecessors have experienced – if it exists at all. “A Year with the Windsors” concludes.
A meticulously-researched rendition of the horrifying massacres that comprised the “Rape of Nanjing” is the backdrop for Ha Jin’s latest telegraphic and affecting novel.
John Nance Garner famously referred to the vice presidency as being not worth a bucket of warm, er, spit – and yet, during the two terms of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney used that office to wield unprecedented power. The former vice president writes an unapologetic memoir.
Provocative public intellectual/muckraker Christopher Hitchens offers an enormous volume of collected essays and articles, probably his last.
He’s been waiting for the throne longer than any Prince of Wales before him, and he’s changed the nature of the monarchy while he’s been waiting. But will we ever see King Charles III? ‘A Year with the Windsors’ takes a look at the heir.
Boston, so often reproved for living in its memories, may well be poised to lead the future, not in spite of its history but because of it.
Lodestar or mirror? Passé or ne plus ultra? Elizabeth II has presided with consistency over an inconsistent age. And what have we learned of her?
The key to storytelling is world-building, and a new book wonders if our new and all-encompassing Digital Era has given mankind world-building tools like it’s never had before. Is it the death of the imagination – or Story 2.0?
The ethics of Wikileaks (and the antics of its mastermind, Julian Assange) continue to be the focus of controversy – and new books. Greg Waldmann takes a comprehensive look at the entire phenomenon.
Could you actually be hurting the environment by going green and moving to the suburbs? A new book champions that oft-maligned human invention: the big city.
Courtier and cleric, adventurer and ascetic, man of faith and man of the world — John Donne was many things in his life, and a sprawling new Companion does its best to assess them all.
One of the most significant voices of the Harlem Renaissance was Jessie Redmon Fauset — novelist, essayist, translator, and editor. She’s become obscured behind many of the male writers she published, but Joanna Scutts returns her poignant work to the main stage
When his brother the king abdicated, shy Prince Bertie suddenly became king – and he was just settling in when the World War II threw his kingdom into chaos. ‘A Year with the Windsors’ continues.
Brothers take opposing sides in World War One, in a gripping biography that reveals the history and politics of America’s role in the conflict.
A new biography explores the life of the erratic and headstrong ‘forgotten’ Founding Father who bankrolled a revolution and guided a new republic.
Religion is one of those subjects that are too important to be polite about. But can we at least agree to disagree respectfully about the meaning of life?
When the tottering Roman Empire abandoned its far-flung outpost of Britain, the natives were forced to fend for themselves. The results were one part “Lord of the Flies” and one part “Camelot.”
Former political radical Susan Rosenberg received the longest sentence ever given for the charge of possessing explosives. Her new memoir revisits her prison experience.
A pivotal part of the Second World War was fought not on land or sea but under the waves – and a new history attributes heroism to both sides.
If you’re hoping for a heartfelt mea culpa from an architect of two disastrous wars, this isn’t it. Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir is shallow at best, cynically self-serving at worst.
Semiotext(e) is famous for theory and provocation. So what happens when its co-founder takes on the art world in the latest installment of their manifesto series? To begin with, she doesn’t write a manifesto…
It’s fitting that Ahdaf Soueif is narrating this exciting new chapter in Egypt’s history: for decades she has offered her readers richer, more complicated stories of the Middle East than the commonplace ones of submission and extremism.
Theodore Roosevelt left office younger than any American president before him, and renowned biographer Edmund Morris concludes his TR trilogy with a look at the Colonel’s post-power days.
When the heir presumptive, Prince Eddy, died suddenly, the nation and empire was convulsed with mourning – and a century of speculation began! Had the lost prince been a simpleton, a saint, a catamite – even Jack the Ripper?
The ideology Irving Kristol helped found is inexorably tied to Bush administration, but a posthumous collection of essays reveals different and bracingly diverse origins
She was an orange-seller, an actress, a whore, and the most popular of Charles II’s many mistresses: Nell Gwynn stars in two new novels.
Books have been with us for thousands of years, and books about books for very nearly that long. The world of books teems with themes, and in the latest massive Oxford Companion, that world receives a bestiary with hopes of being definitive.
The myth of idyllic rural America dies hard, but the scourges of modern society have long since struck the heartland, including the scourge of drug addiction and drug trafficking. A recent book explores the darkness at the edge of town.
Matt Taibbi is the foremost political-writing muckraker of his generation, matching an acerbic wit with a pressure-cooked prose style. But is there substance behind the bluster?
Her reign was epic in length and social impact, but it very nearly didn’t happen at all. She ruled through two generations of her people, and she left the British monarchy very different from how she found it. She is Queen Victoria, and our Year with the Windsors starts as it must: with her.
The United States’ first Civil War, Alan Taylor claims, was fought in 1812. Ivan Lett assesses the revisionist argument.
Patrick Henry uttered one of the most famous lines in American history, and a new biography attempts to claim him for a particular radical strain of popularism in contemporary politics. Give me liberty or give me… historical distortion?
Nixon’s crimes are known to us all. A new book reveals that his biggest tormentor in the media committed a few of them himself.
Is the death of literature finally dead? If not, it’s been dealt a healthy blow by Gregory Jusdanis’ Fiction Agonistes, even it art does have to “justify itself in a way not necessary before.”
In 1941 Hitler had everything: all of Europe had fallen to his stormtroopers, and he could dispose of lone, defiant England at his leisure. Then he made a Napoleonic gamble: he invaded his one-time ally, Russia. Three new books deal with the Napoleonic results of that gamble.
Ever since Cain and Abel, literature has reserved a prominent place for sterling heroes — and the flawed, grasping, and entirely more interesting brothers who live in their shadow.
No American president in a generation has so polarized the country as George W. Bush, and his new book will almost certainly polarize its readers. Is it defiant agitprop or heartfelt memoir?
For two centuries, he’s been the founding myth of his nation: first in war, first in peace, Washington the paragon. Ron Chernow’s new biography does nothing to tarnish that image — but should it?
Of the charismatic Yale lecturer one adoring student wrote, “Charles Hill is God,” and in his new book, Hill moves in mysterious ways. He claims that statecraft and the Western canon are inextricably linked — but there are doubters in the temple.
The Battle of the Somme has become a watch-word for useless slaughter over worthless ground, but a new book contends that the Somme was actually a victory for the good guys–a ghastly, horrifying victory, but a victory just the same.
As reproductive technology has become more advanced, the value of those engineered lives has become more complicated. Two recent novels provide a striking perspective on this growing conflict.
Winston Churchill has become such an icon of wartime tenacity that many people tend to forget he had a postwar political career. Barbara Leaming’s 2010 biography examines the last act of a famous man’s career.
A new book argues that Theodore Roosevelt and William Randolph Hearst stampeded the United States into the Spanish-American War to feed imperial ambition and sell some newspapers. Are the roots of modern America rotten?
She’s one of the most famous names in history, and the only figure in antiquity to rival Julius Caesar’s renown–but what do we really know about Cleopatra? Stacy Schiff’s new biography takes us behind the legend.
A catch-all collection of James Baldwin’s essays, letters, and speeches reveals a social commenter whose observations retain their relevance and universality to this day
It’s that time of year again, when our writers gird themselves and review all ten books on The New York Times bestseller list. This time around the quarry is bestselling Nonfiction.
In books such as “Live Alone and Like It” Marjorie Hillis preached independence and practical style to “live-aloner” working women of the 1930s and beyond
Some of the greatest works of English literature grapple with the dark, knotted roots of anti-Semitism, and the audience is always complicit. A new book studies the tangle of art and atrocity in writers Chaucer to Marlowe to Shakespeare
He has become synonymous with amoral, cold-hearted political machination, but there was more to Machiavelli than that. A new biography attempts to look at the whole man.
The attacks of 9/11 evoked reactions from writers around the world, and journalist Scott Malcolmson finds fault with a great many of them – but does he do any better a job himself?
Adam Nicolson chronicles his work bringing Sissinghurst castle and its grounds up to date–the delusions of a “hippie-squire” or the worthy restoration of a storied estate?
He toadied to a succession of emperors and trembled at the mere thought of being mugged — on the surface, it looks odd to cast Pliny the Younger as a detective. A new mystery novel takes that chance.
More than any other figure in American history (including his hated rival Andrew Jackson), Henry Clay towered over the political landscape in the decades before the Civil War; two new books look at his legacy.
In addition to their gods and goddesses, the ancient Greeks worshiped youth and athletic prowess, and their foremost bard was Pindar.
Was Eleanor of Aquitaine a power in medieval politics or a glittering figurehead? This wife of two kings and mother of four stars in a new novel by Alison Weir – but will the real Eleanor please stand up?
Vegetarians choose to be vegetarians and meat-eaters choose to be “normal.” Melanie Joy cuts into the language we use to describe our food and the mindset behind it.
The documentary Restrepo, set in the deepest and most violent American outpost in Afganastan, ushers us “through a door most Americans don’t know about and don’t want to know about”
The sunlit aesthetics of the Edwardian era have been given a new look in this essay collection, and the consensus leans decidedly toward the darker meanings belying those lovely surfaces
What we know about Edward II came from the brilliant mind of Christopher Marlowe. A new biography seeks to separate the real man from the dramatist’s fertile imagination.
In 2009, Ciudad Juarez reported 2,700 homicides. As Charles Bowden’s new book Murder City shows, the bloody drug-war just south of the border shows no signs of abating
Emmanuel Carrere’s memoir is an uneasy blend of sexual fantasy and archival records, of a future with a beautiful young woman and a past haunted by a possible Nazi collaborator
As Mark Twain pointed out a century ago, there’s no evidence the man from Stratford ever read a book, much less owned one, and so the number of books alleging and ‘proving’ evidence of his grand fraud grows and grows …
Our bookshelves are a hedge against our failing memories, and as such, an extension of our minds. Nathan Schneider explores if and how this sacred role will be preserved in the age of digitization.
The so-called Tea Party would like to dump President Obama in Boston Harbor – but even ordinary politicians often misunderstand him. The reasons are simpler than you think.
At her trial, Anne Boleyn was accused of adultery, witchcraft, and incest – charges long mocked by historians. But a new book asks: is it possible Anne was actually guilty?
When colonial tensions were at a boiling point, the British garrisoned troops on Boston Common and put the city under military occupation – until a certain Massacre, that is.
During the American Revolution, colonists ran blockades, fought sea-battles and … sent in an attack-submarine? No, it’s not time travel – it’s the amazing story of the Turtle.
World War I is known for its inching attrition, but both sides tried their hand at massive, all-or-nothing ‘pushes’ – including two of the worst, the Marne and the Somme.
Famed reporter Sebastian Junger spent months embedded with frontline troops in Afghanistan’s most forbidding region and tells the stories of the men who fight there.
In his new memoir, Christopher Hitchens regales his readers with one good story after another. But as John Rodwan shows, we’ve heard most of them before – lots of times.